The phrase ‘we are able’ jumped off the page when I was reading the gospel set for Wednesday’s Eucharist (Matthew 17, 17-27). In the story James and John’s affirmation is to Jesus’ question as to whether they are ‘able to drink the cup,’ that he, Jesus, is ‘about to drink.’ Of course their affirmation is made in the hope that they will achieve the vain glory of being given the privileged positions of sitting immediately beside Jesus’, one on his left and the other on his right, in the ‘kingdom.’
James and John, of course, have the ultimate pushy mother. She wants her children, her ‘grown up,’ but immature children, to be top of the class. Yes, they have to show their ability, but only so that it can be recognised and rewarded. It is in many ways a very modern story, for it is a me story. But, the Christian story is never simply a me story, it is an us story. It is the story of loving service, of using our ability to help others, for their benefit and not ours. It was, and is, a profoundly counter cultural story.
I don’t find it an easy story, for I, like James and John crave recognition, prestige and privilege. I want to be recognised for my ‘good works,’ and ‘my’ ability to bring people into the church. I suspect that I am not alone; that’s the good news. And, what I don’t know, as yet, is if I am really ‘able,’ to drink from the fullness of the cup. In Bonhoeffer’s terms I don’t as yet know whether I am more attracted, and in some ways more likely to peddle, ‘cheap grace’ than to accept the mantle of ‘costly discipleship.’
Maybe the journey of discipleship is about arriving at the point where we are truly, with total integrity, able to say ‘we are able?’ Maybe this is something that can only be answered in the collective, with the emphasis on ‘we’? Jesus called twelve apostles to spend time with him, learn from him, and be with him. Perhaps, the other apostles were cross with James and John not just because of their vain glory but because they broke ranks and undermined the concept of ‘we?’
Just a few thoughts on a highly challenging Lent reading.